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Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen January 23, 2023

Climate change is not a “naturally occurring phenomenon.” Humanity is the driving force

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  • Though orbital variations have caused Earth’s climate to change in the past, scientists have concluded changes to the planet’s climate are too drastic to be caused naturally. 
  • The scientific community consensus is that large amounts of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere through human activity have caused climate change.

As global leaders discussed climate change and other issues at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a social media post sought to downplay humanity’s role in climate change.

"Climate change is a naturally occurring phenomenon that can be tracked throughout prehistoric eras," the caption on the Jan. 17 Instagram post says. 

The caption also claims that several ice ages during the late Triassic period prove Earth’s changing climate is a naturally occurring "constant part of life."

The post includes a screenshot of a tweet that says, "If your global crisis requires publicity stunts to convince everyone there is a crisis, there is no global crisis."

The Instagram post was flagged as part of Instagram’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

But climate change is not a fabricated crisis, and the scientific community’s consensus is that human activity since the Industrial Revolution has fueled the changes. 

PolitiFact has rated False similar statements that said climate change is a natural occurrence not influenced by greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. 

Ronald Amundson, an environmental science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told PolitiFact that although it’s true that Earth’s climate has changed naturally throughout history, those changes — such as the ice ages mentioned in the Instagram post — are unrelated to what’s happening now. 

NASA said natural changes to the Earth’s climate, including ice ages, are caused by small changes in the Earth's orbit, which affect how much solar energy the planet receives. 

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"That is not the same as the human-driven climate change that is occurring now," Amundson said. Modern climate change "has no natural cause" and is a result of human changes to the atmosphere, he said.  

He said if greenhouse gases from human activity had no bearing on the Earth’s climate, and didn’t trap heat within the atmosphere, we would be entering into a "general cooling situation" rather than the warming that’s happening. 

The amount of solar energy the Earth has received hasn't seen a net increase since the 1950s, but global temperatures have continued to rise.

NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency found that humans started to influence the Earth’s climate significantly with the start of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century. An increase in manufacturing and fossil fuel usage resulted in the release of large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  

Whendee Silver, a UC Berkeley environmental science professor, said gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane help trap heat within the Earth’s atmosphere, warming it and changing the climate long term. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the Earth’s average temperature has risen by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit — an average of 0.14 degrees Fahrenheit every decade — since 1880, when modern global temperature measurements began. 

Our ruling

An Instagram post says, "Climate change is a naturally occurring phenomenon that can be tracked throughout prehistoric eras."

Earth’s climate has naturally changed in the past, partly because of variations in the planet’s orbit, which affected how much solar radiation the planet received.

But the scientific consensus is that human activity is mainly driving current changes in the Earth’s climate. The increase in manufacturing and burning of fossil fuels led to large releases of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, trapping heat and causing global temperatures to rise. 

We rate this claim False. 

Our Sources

Instagram post (archive), Jan. 17, 2023

Tommy Vext, Tweet (archive), Jan. 17, 2023

World Economic Forum, Annual Meeting Davos 2023 - Cooperation in a Fragmented World, Nov. 10, 2022

NASA, Scientific Consensus: Earth's Climate Is Warming, accessed Jan. 20, 2023

PolitiFact, "2008 quote does not reflect scientific consensus: Humans do cause global warming," Nov. 3, 2021

PolitiFact, "Marco Rubio says humans are not causing climate change," May 13, 2014

PolitiFact, "No, climate change isn’t driven by solar activity and lunar phases," Nov. 29, 2022

Email interview with Ronald Amundson, professor of environmental science at UC Berkeley, Jan. 19, 2023

NASA, How Do We Know Climate Change Is Real, accessed Jan. 20, 2023

NASA, The Causes of Climate Change, accessed Jan. 20, 2023

EPA, Causes of Climate Change, Aug. 19, 2022

Email interview with Whendee Silver, professor of environmental science at UC Berkeley, Jan. 19, 2023

NOAA, Climate Change: Global Temperature, Jan. 18, 2023

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Climate change is not a “naturally occurring phenomenon.” Humanity is the driving force

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